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Bridges by Mary Flower

Vocalist and guitarist Mary Flower was nominated for the Acoustic Artist Of The Year award at the 2008 Blues Music Awards and has finished in the top three twice at the National Fingerpicking Guitar Championships. The Indiana-born folk artist has been moving more and more towards a jazz oriented style in recent years. Lately her style has been oriented around exploring and illuminating the complex relationships between Piedmont blues, ragtime, jazz and old-time gospel. Never leaving her love of traditional blues music far behind, critic Bruce Eder has found elements of Scrapper Blackwell, Robert Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson in her music.

For this, Flower’s third recording on the roots music label Yellow Dog Records, she chose a collection of obscure songs from the 1920s and 30s to balance her own creative and unique compositions. The result is a wonderful mix of Flower’s heavily folk-shifted almost bluegrass folk-country approach set into a collection of well-shaped songs that serve to illuminate the artist and not obscure her.

For those looking for jazz, you won’t find it here, save for a slow Dixieland take on "The Ghost Of The St. Louis Blues." Her ample technique is much more traditionally blues based than leaning towards jazz. Her guitar playing style is a mix of the old-time Appalachian and southwest country-blues traditional, reference Robert Johnson without the jumping rhythms and Hank Snow’s easy charm.

On tunes like "Backwater Blues," Flower uses a simplistic style to accompany her mournful take on traveling theme of the lyrics. By crafting single-line rejoinders to her down-and-out themed subject matter, along with Janice Scoggins’ pared down piano, Flower’s provides testimony to the travails of life and is able to instrumentally comment on it at the same time. Even here, on the instrumental solo section each artist gets, the style is deeply blues and not jazz influenced. The result, however, so fits the style of the melody there can be no denying each artist "gets it" and demonstrates how the music is subservient to the tune’s ideas.

Conversely on "When I Get Home I’m Gonna Be Satisfied," Flower again uses a pared-down instrumental combination, just herself on guitar and vocals with Jesse Withers on string bass, to this time give the happily gospel and upbeat lyric a swingingly triumphant treatment. That she is able to switch gears so effortlessly in small ensemble situations aptly reveals why she is so highly esteemed in her work.

As an instrumentalist one need only listen to her incredibly musical and soul-satisfying solo performance of the "Columbia River Rag." Flower’s makes this incredibly difficult music sound so easy you’ll swear there are two guitarists playing. Yet again a wonderful CD by this underappreciated living folk and blues legend in the making.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Mary Flower
  • CD Title: Bridges
  • Genre: Blues
  • Year Released: 2009
  • Record Label: Yellow Dog Records
  • Tracks: Rhythm Of The Road, There Ain’t No Sweet Man That’s Worth The Salt Of My Tears, Backwater Blues, When I Get Home I Gonna Be Satisfied, Columbia River Rag, The Ghost Of The St. Louis Blues, Slow Lane To Glory, On Revival Day/There’s Going To Be The Devil To Pay, Portland Town, Daughter Of Contortion, Big Bill’s Blues, Temptation Rag, Up A Lazy River and Blue Waltz
  • Musicians: Mary Flower (guitar, vocals), Tony Furtado (banjo, bottleneck slide guitar), Jesse Withers (string bass), Duffy Bishop (vocals), Rebecca Kilgore (vocals), Janice Scroggins (piano), Mark Vehrencamp (tuba), Doug Bundy (clarinet), Reggie Houston (soprano sax), Mac Potts (piano), Courtney Von Drehle (accordion), Matt Johnson (drums), Robin Kessinger (flatpicked guitar), Spud Siegel (mandolin), Tim O’Brien (fiddle), Courtney Von Drehle (accordion)
  • Rating: Five Stars
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